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Speedskater Clarke reaches career high at junior nationals

Whitehorse speedskater Heather Clarke left a high water mark in her last trip to the junior nationals. Clarke, who is in her final season as a junior, produced a career-high 14th place finish.

Whitehorse speedskater Heather Clarke left a high water mark in her last trip to the junior nationals.

Clarke, who is in her final season as a junior, produced a career-high 14th place finish in the 1,000-metre at the Canadian Junior Short Track Championships over the weekend in Montreal.

At the championships, the first race in each distance determines which skaters go on to compete for spots in the top-16. A skater must place in the top two in the first heat to move on into the top half of the field.

“The difference with the 1,000 compared to the other ones was that I had a great first race,” said Clarke. “In the 500 and the 1,500 my first races were not that great and that put me in the bottom group ...

“The final was really good, I led the whole race, did some defending. I got passed on the last corner, which was a little unfortunate, but I’m pretty proud of that race otherwise.”

Clarke, who is a member of the Whitehorse Rapids Speed Skating Club, also raced to 18th in the 500-metre and 21st in the 1,500-metre.

The 19-year-old finished with 18th in the Super 1,500-metre, an event in which skaters are placed in finals based on the previous finishes at the championships.

After three days of racing, Clarke placed 18th overall.

“I feel like it was a bit of a mixed bag,” said Clarke. “I had some great races and some not-so-great races.

“I was trying not to focus too much on the placings and results because in October at the national qualifier in Calgary my mind was really set on placing and it kind of distracted me from what I need to do in each race.

“So I was just trying to take each race one at a time and focus on what I could control.

“In that regard I made huge improvements since the last competition.”

Clarke seemed disappointed with her finish in the 500-metre. She placed 11th in the event at Speed Skating Canada’s National Qualifier event in Calgary, and went on to take 18th overall there as well.

“My first race wasn’t my best race,” said Clarke of the 500 on Friday. “I didn’t make the smartest moves in that one and finished third, so I was in the bottom group in the 500, which was disappointing. But I fought my way up to the top of the bottom group.”

Clarke is a member of the Calgary Oval Program with fellow Whitehorse Rapids skater Troy Henry who recently raced at Team Canada’s Olympic trials in long track.

She placed 26th overall out of 32 skaters at last year’s junior nationals.

“I’ve made some pretty big technical jumps this year and I think I put them in play pretty well,” said Clarke. “I made some great track pattern adjustments that I’ve struggled with all year and I made some great passes I’m happy with because I was also struggling a lot with passing and timing in October.”

Though she is eligible to compete, Clarke will not be racing for Yukon at the upcoming Arctic Winter Games. She will instead compete at the national team selections being held the same week as the Games in March.

Clarke won two gold and three silver, and set an Arctic Games record, in 2012.

“I’m proud of how far I’ve come this season. I got pretty sick in the spring and I definitely did not expect to be where I am right now,” said Clarke, who had a bad case of strep throat. “I surprised myself with how quickly I came back and how strong I am right now.”

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